The Finger Lakes winds had changed to the cooler, prophetic voice of the seasons, announcing the coming return of winter.
My friend Rabbi Grossman arrived to the Seneca Lake park in Geneva, N.Y., with two very hot black coffees.
Not only was it a gray, chilly morning, but my heart was also gray due to the direction the small church I was trying to save was headed. It seemed that in spite of all our efforts to save our dying little church, in a few months we would have to close down for the winter in order to keep the utilities going.
“Shalom Aleichem, Juan!” Rabbi Grossman’s big smile was warm and his eyes twinkled. “Aleichem Shalom, Rabbi!”
Before uttering anything else, Rabbi Grossman threw his arm around me, and with a big smile said, “Juan, you just gotta learn how to sing a new song.” Like always, I knew in my heart that the Rabbi had a special word for me from God, even if he didn’t know it at the time.
After chanting a few psalms together, my Rabbi friend began to tell me a story about his deceased “bubbe” (“grandmother” in Yiddish). My friend recounted how difficult it was for him when she passed; he described her as a radiant, strong-gentled soul who, although she had suffered beyond his comprehension, was always the “bubbly bubbe” around her family and friends.
As he described her hardships in a concentration camp, tears burst from his eyes and rolled down his big beard like rivers of love as he recounted her experience. “Bubbe always used to tell us that no matter the circumstances that God allows, that we should choose to approach Hashem with happiness.”
She sang happy songs she had learned in her synagogue as a child before her Bat Mitzvah. Bubbe’s philosophy was simple yet profound. “Hashem is good – it’s not his fault there are people who choose to do evil.”
Bubbe sang these happy songs to God because, she believed, “God hears terrible things everyday from almost everyone.” I had never heard about a person who actually cared about God’s feelings!
Rather than complaining to God, Bubbe believed that by praising Him in the midst of her sufferings, she could have Him take special notice of her in the midst of an ocean of tears, and give her the power to give hope to those who had lost it.
After our exchange, Rabbi Grossman began to lowly sing a simple Hebrew song that I fell in love with. Little by little, the Rabbi began to raise his voice incrementally, until the soft melody morphed into ecstatic praises to God and dancing. The song was “Hevenu Shalom Aleichem” which means: “We bring peace upon you!”
A miracle happened; a day that had begun with tears of sadness became a day filled with tears of joy and laughter.
Dear friend, there are things that cannot be changed, but circumstances should have no reign over your mind and heart. You are the owner of thoughts and feelings that are meant to be tamed only by you.
As with Bubbe, God has given you the tools to take charge of your heart by dwelling on the Eternal One and the benefits of loving Him rather than our passing and finite sorrows. “The Lord your God is with you, the Mighty Warrior who saves. He will take great delight in you; in his love he will no longer rebuke you, but will rejoice over you with singing.” (Zephaniah 3:17)
Rev. Juan C. Rivera of Bluffton is a Latino missions consultant and counseling therapist for Jamison Consultants.